Six weeks ago, my daughter said she’d hit a song-writing slump. Avery's guitar instructor had challenged her to writing one new song per month. At the end of the month, they agreed to share the song they’d written with one another.
Avery and I had a good laugh when she said, “I’m only 12, and I don’t have as many life experiences as Mr. Corey. I mean…he’s been in love! That’s pretty much what all the good songs are about!”
Now here we are, six weeks later, and her hands cannot keep up with the lyrics pouring from her heart and mind.
Pain… challenge… struggle… uncertainty—they will do that, if you allow them to.
Avery’s been working through severe bone structure issues in her foot and back. There are some efforts that help, some that don’t, and some that just require complete surrender, faith, hope, and trust.
It’s a lot for a young person to handle—especially one who feels deeply and has never been one to power through pain.
As much as it hurts to see my daughter unable to do many things she loves to do and feel such angst about the future, I look in her eyes and I say what most helped me during my own struggles:
“This is not fair. This is hard. But you are strong, and I believe you will get through this. And I also believe you will take this hardship and turn it into something beautiful.”
Shortly after seeing the troubling x-ray of her spine, I had a chance to circle back to the song-writing conversation that took place six weeks ago.
“Avery, these types of experiences are what powerful song lyrics are made of. Pain is universal. Struggle is part of life. Just think; you could help someone through a challenging time by putting words to your experience.”
Each night, Avery goes into the little blue room at the front of our house to write and sing.
Once in a while, she’ll get stuck on a lyric and call me in.
“What 3-syllable word works here?” she asks before singing a beautiful, but slightly awkwardly line.
I feel overcome with gratitude that I am able to support my child as she strengthens and supports herself through this trial.
We all need outlets for our pain and struggle. Avery’s turning to music just as I turned to writing when I was a young girl… and again, eight years ago, when I’d gotten so far from the person I wanted to be and the life I yearned to live.
I am reflecting so much on that painful period of my life as I pour my heart and energy into writing a book that I hope will show adults new ways to walk beside young people as they navigate today's demanding and distracted world.
But unlike the carefree writing days of my childhood, I am now under a tight deadline. Writing a 65,000-word manuscript in just under four months has proven to be a daunting task.
For now, writing is not so much a refuge as it is a demand, so I’m turning to my very first place of peace—the refuge young Rachel would turn to before she could write words: Nature.
I posed a rhetorical question on my Facebook page the other day: Can a swing save your life? I proposed that it could. It had when I was four years old and my beloved white kitten died. I swung on my backyard swing set for hours and hours as I wept. And now, during a time of stress and uncertainty, a swinging bench showed up on a walking path not far from Avery’s guitar school. Each week, I run to that swing where I cry… I marvel… I breathe…and I pray. In just 20 minutes on that swing, I gain perspective, peace, and hope.
“What places of refuge from your childhood do you turn to today?”I’d asked members of the online community with a photo of me on the hope-reviving swing.
The comments were breathtaking. Here is a sample:
“At work today we prepared for an event to thank our volunteers. My co-workers snuck down the drive to clip some fresh lilacs for the event. I smelled them later and was transported to my childhood and the comfort of that smell. I can't quite put my finger on the focused memory, and yet I know it was a good one.” -MM
“Nature and piano music bring me back to my childhood. Running out back to my favorite old willow tree…wrapping as many hanging branches my small hands could manage and running until I was lifted off the ground, then climbing as high as I could go! Feeling the wind sway me with the tree! I loved closing my eyes and feeling next to God way up there. Still have a scar on my arm from a pretty major fall from that tree, but now it’s kinda special to me and seeing it brings me back. -CG
“Books have always been my place solace and escape. I can enter new worlds and make new friends to ease me through the struggles. I used to sit and play the piano as well. I need to get back to that. I hear my piano calling me to come sit awhile.” -JM
“I used to stare into the fireplace (a real fire.. not like our gas one today) for hours, lay in the warmth on the floor, take in the smell and colors. They still bring me a sense of comfort today. Also cleaning. I know that’s strange, but ever since I was a little girl, cleaning calms me down and makes me happy.” -AJ
“I still find peace in the woods (truly the best part of nature), a swing (it's so therapeutic), the sound of the coffee-maker percolating (it was the signal that my mom was awake and starting her day, her slippers scuffing on our tile floor), the purr of my cat….I don't think what brings us peace ever truly changes with age.” -DC
We all need outlets for our stress… our struggle… our pain. We all need a chance to breathe… reflect…and contemplate. How easy it is to forget in this world that glorifies DOING and shuns BEING. But we must remember; our very existence depends on it.
When Avery asked me if we could test out her feet on the tennis court last week, I had big hopes. We’d been doing everything the podiatrist instructed to heal the plantar fasciitis that developed due to her bone structure issue. I hoped things would go well so Avery could get back to the joy of tennis she’d discovered about a year ago.
From across the court, I watched her try to maintain her composure as she frustratingly hit the yellow ball and favored her right foot. We both knew it was not yet time to come back to tennis.
As we rested in her bed later than night, she said, “Why does it have to be my feet? I need them for so much.”
Before I even had time to think, I blurted out, “But what if it was your hands? How would you play guitar?
Avery sat up in a panic. “Or my voice? What if I couldn’t sing?”
As she settled back down in her bed with a sigh, she said, “I’ve got my music, and as long as I have that, I’ll be ok.”
Avery’s shift in perspective reminded me of a profound piece of wisdom spoken by my friend Steven Turikunkiko who founded the Togetherness Youth Cooperative to create community for children orphaned in the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi.
When survivors of trauma and hardship come to Steven wondering how they can feed their families and carry on, he offers this guidance:
“Don’t say, ‘what do I need?’ Say, ‘what do I have?’ And then let's take what we have and come together.”
Steven and I had the chance to share his wisdom through an interview during the African Road Gala on May 4th in Portland, Oregon. I’ve heard from the beautiful women of our online community who attended that they will “never forget” hearing Steven’s story.
That is how I felt when Steven first relayed those words to me last summer while standing on the dirt soccer pitch—a field of hope and healing that begun 20 years ago when Steven took banana leaves to form a ball so he could bring joy to children who’d suffered so much.
Steven’s words came back to me at the precise moment they were needed.
I returned from Portland very late last Sunday night feeling anxious and overwhelmed by several things, one of them being the short time I had left to write the remaining 20,000 words of my book.
That next morning, I did something unexpected with a rough draft of chapter five. I took that literary catastrophe outside and began walking with it, editing pen in hand.
I’d barely gotten started when a bright red ladybug unexpectedly flew right onto my paper. I stopped and watched in awe as the tiny insect moved to my hand.
Tears formed in my eyes.
“Don’t you remember, Rachel?” my younger self said to me. “Don’t you remember how you dreamed of becoming an author when you were eight years old? Look! That is what you’re doing now!”
“Don’t say, ‘what do I need?’ Say, ‘what do I have?’ And then let's take what we have and come together.”
Life obstacles are not only painful and tricky to maneuver, but they also block us from seeing what we still have that is good… holy… useful…and true. Life’s obstacles prevent us from seeing how far we’ve come and who walks beside us in our pain.
And just when I needed a lifeline to hold on to, I was reminded. And now I can extend that lifeline to you, as well as my beloved child.
Today Avery begins a new chapter in her life—a chapter of resilience. We return to the orthotic specialist to pick up the back brace designed especially to stop the curve in her spine from progressing. To give the brace the greatest chance of being successful, Avery is required to wear it every night for nine hours until she stops growing.
The spine specialist warned us that it typically takes about 3-4 weeks to get used to sleeping in it.
That is when my completed manuscript is due to my publisher.
As I dig deep and stretch myself to finish this immense work of heart, Avery will be adjusting to sleeping in a tight, restrictive plastic brace from her arm pit down past one hip.
I will be summoned to her room in the middle of the night. This I know.
Unable to sleep, she will begin to worry about end-of-year testing and middle school woes. This I know.
My child will not be herself. This I know.
These next four weeks are not going to be easy. This I know.
But I will not let our current obstacle cause us to lose sight of what we have.
We have each other.
We have our hands.
We have our voices.
And we have our stories of struggle that can become something beautiful through song lyrics and book pages if we allow them to.
Perhaps through them, people feeling desperately alone will feel seen and held,
Transporting them to a place of peace and reminding them they don’t walk alone.
Together is better.
This I know.
And I will remember, even when it’s hard.
Friends, I feel compelled to tell you about something that happened at the African Road Fundraising Gala in Portland. Several members of our online community went to great lengths, traveling many miles, to support East African Changemakers and the work of African Road. When we all gathered together that night, it was like meeting old friends. There was such a beautiful connection experienced as we shared bits and pieces of our lives with people we knew we could trust and be ourselves. I believe this was just a tiny glimpse of what we will experience when we gather in California for the weekend retreat at 1440 Multiversity where I have been invited to teach components of my online course Soul Shift on Oct 18-20. I have received many inquiries from people who wonder if it will be ok to come alone. I say, come. Come as you are. Come with your greatest hopes and biggest fears. You will be met with open arms. This is the beauty of the Hands Free Revolution community. We are family. I can hardly wait to see you.
In addition to the California retreat, I will be speaking at a fundraising event near Atlanta, GA in August. All proceeds go to the All About Cats Rescue and Adoption. Joining me on stage will be Avery with her gift of song, wisdom, and connection. Seats are limited for this event, so I am letting you know here before I post the event on social media. Click here for tickets. There are only 300 seats available for this event.
*If you would like to see a bit of the beautiful songwriting happening in Avery’s life, here is the first verse and chorus of her new song, CATCHING MYSELF for anyone who needs a beautiful anthem of hope today. Click here to watch.
A special thank you to all who emailed and messaged in response to my last blog post. We are deeply touched by the wonderful ideas, offers, and suggestions to address the pain and issues in Avery's feet and back. We will be referring to this wealth of information along this journey. Thank you for loving us so well. I love you dearly.